what international women’s day means from a poc perspective
Three females writers from a South Indian, West African and Singaporean/Chinese background sound off.
Modern feminism is guilty of sometimes forgetting some of its most marginalised sisters. Statistics shows females from a POC background are routinely faced with racialised sexism in the workplace, paid less and are more likely to struggle with issues of domestic abuse, with things getting even more bleak when it comes to trans women and trans women of colour. For International Women's Day to truly work and affect change, feminism needs to be fully intersectional. For IWD 2017, we asked three diasporan writers from a Singaporean/Chinese, South Indian and West African heritage to explain what International Women's Day means to them…
Zing Tsjeng, UK Editor, Broadly
It's hard to say when I first started considering myself an immigrant. Maybe it was after I handed over my first few hundred pounds to the Home Office for visa fees, or the second consecutive hour that I waited on hold to their helpline. Maybe it was by the third account I created to lurk on immigration forums, created for the express purposes of torturing myself reading posts with titles like "HELP… WIFE CANNOT ENTER COUNTRY?!" and "Scared of UKBA, cannot pay fees, any advice".
Either way, at some point I became aware that Britain had turned hostile to former colonial subjects like me - people who had been taught Auden in schools named after British monarchs, in far-off lands where present day government was conducted out of administrative buildings built by its former rulers; who grew up with children whose parents had named them Aik Hui and Armiliah, but in some aspirational cases, Adeline, April, and Phyllis. Good old-fashioned English names - the kind of names you find at a tea dance in a seaside town, or on the other side of the world, propping up a fading empire.
International Women's Day means remembering the contributions that immigrants and women of colour have made to this country from all over the world, and how little they have been thanked for it. Unjust immigration legislation still tears women's lives apart, leaving mothers stranded from their children and sending lesbian and bisexual refugees back to their potential deaths in homophobic countries. Right now, women are incarcerated in places like Yarl's Wood, and women like Durham grandmother Irene Clennell are herded into enforcement vans to face deportation. Women die on leaky boats attempting to reach Europe, or miscarry on the back of smuggler lorries. In the US, where women and children make up three-quarters of all immigrants, they face a president who imposed a racist travel ban and openly brags about sexual assault in a two-for-one meal deal of xenophobia and sexism.
It's not all bad. Being an immigrant also means being part of a worldwide network of missed connections and crackly phone calls, your membership assured by a secret club whose members know the exact time-zone difference between London and Singapore, or Accra, or Hong Kong, Karachi, and Krakow. (There are a million different languages and ways to say "Mum, I can't hear you, you're breaking up" - one for every daughter who lands in the arrivals hall of Heathrow.)
I was 16 when I came to the UK, and I'm 28 now. I had privilege and luck on my side; I could afford the thousands I ended up spending to stay in this country, and I had the time to parse the in's and out's of a tricky system designed for maximum confusion. Many people don't. This International Women's Day, it's time to remember that immigration is a feminist issue.
Simran Hans, Freelance Writer
I am a woman of colour; a brown woman; a woman of the South Asian diaspora; an Indian woman; a Punjabi woman. But I'm British. The very fact of my being born and raised in the U.K. has granted me privilege, power and access that I often take for granted, from my accent to my citizenship. International Women's Day is a welcome reminder that the struggle for gender equality - for equal rights, equal recognition and yes, equal pay - is global.
Feminism has finally begun to seep into mainstream media, but for those who live their lives online (myself included) it's easy to forget that it's a particular type of feminism. A trickle-down choice feminism that busies itself by focusing on Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry; on sex, bodies, and beauty standards; on the representation of women in popular culture rather than the rights of women in real life. That's not to say the two have to exist in opposition to one another, but rather that the stakes of first world white feminism feel comparatively low in comparison.
International Women's Day is a call for gender equality, and a chance to celebrate women's achievements all over the world. Over the years, its reach has broadened; the day of celebration has been adopted and mainstreamed by corporations and charities alike. In the process, I've seen it's messaging corrupted into a branding exercise that raises awareness at arm's length. This is perhaps odd given that the roots of the annual event lie in socialism; the Socialist Party of America and Germany's Social Democratic Party were both instrumental in forming it. At its heart, International Women's Day is an anti-capitalist show of solidarity.
International Women's Day shifts the focus to include women in the developing world, too, and to address women's issues using a language that cuts across boundaries of region, race and religion. This shift is an opportunity to think about sisterhood - to reflect on the ways in which women of colour are also complicit in anti-blackness, Islamophobia, caste discrimination and transphobia. These are problems that exist among communities of women who look just like me. As a woman of colour, these are the things I'm thinking about on International Women's Day.
Lynette Nylander, Deputy Editor of i-D
I have always been mindful that the stories I have been told about feminism, in my school text books and on my TV screens, the stories of brave, honourable women that broke boundaries, those who paved the way and made history have sadly looked nothing like me. Or so I thought. You see, England's lack of black history education made it almost impossible for the teenage me to find the stories of Madam CJ Walker, Amy Jacques Garvey, Ida B Wells and bell hooks; the women that made indelible footprints on the world and changed the fate of younger black females like me. But finding them and reading what they did was down to me, and the older West African family and friends around me who showed me the path and taught me to be fiercely proud of the wonderful lineage of black females that have gone before me.
International Women's Day for me, goes beyond the hashtags and corporate co-opting of the day. But for me is an actual time for me to recognise the women that have formed my way of thinking from birth. My late mother, my two sisters, all my friends, the female literary figures that fill my book shelves, and that I listen to every day on my way to work. And also to be mindful that we have SO much further to go. Watching Hillary Clinton's defeat in November and the accompanying message that when you are female, beyond the scrutiny and ridicule you will have to endure, you will lose to your much less worth (and pathetic) opponent slapped me awake from a slumber that because I was doing 'alright' I didn't have to fight. I now don't want to sit down and shut up, I don't want to be scared of telling the truth anymore. It's a disservice to me and all the women that have fought to have mine and all women's voices heard.
So as International Women's Day rolls around again, I of course celebrate all women, regardless of race. Why? Cos we are fucking awesome. We do it all. Most women I know go above and beyond every single day, nurturing, inspiring, teaching and loving those around them wholly and tirelessly. But I particularly remember the females of colour whose names tend to get written out of the history books, whose pictures are lacking in grand museums and perhaps those I may not even know. Because those women of colour have made it easier for me to be the editor and writer that I want to be, and have a small platform of talk to other females about what I think it is important.